Blinken warns that all Gazans face severe food insecurity

  • Written by Tom Bateman
  • BBC News, traveling with Antony Blinken

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UN agencies have said northern Gaza could face famine by May without an end to fighting and increased aid

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Gaza's two million residents were suffering from “severe levels of acute food insecurity.”

When the BBC asked him about the conditions in the region, he said that this is the first time that an entire population has been classified in this way.

Blinken called on Israel to prioritize providing assistance to those in need.

UN agencies have said northern Gaza could face famine by May without an end to fighting and increased aid.

Israeli negotiators are scheduled to begin talks in Qatar on Tuesday in a new attempt to reach an agreement with Hamas to stop the fighting, bring in humanitarian aid and remove Israeli hostages.

Blinken's comments were among his strongest yet in outlining the extent of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Asked by the BBC whether the current conditions were a harbinger of the future of the Strip without a governance agreement or security plan, he said: “By the most respectable measure of these matters, 100% of the population in Gaza is suffering from severe levels of acute infection.” . “Food insecurity. This is the first time an entire population has been classified in this way.”

Acute food insecurity occurs when a person's inability to consume enough food puts their life or livelihood in immediate danger. If not treated, it leads to starvation.

“We also see again, according to the United Nations in this case, that 100% of the total population is in need of humanitarian assistance,” Blinken added.

“If we compare that to Sudan, about 80% of the population there needs humanitarian assistance; and Afghanistan, about 70%. So, again, this highlights the urgent and imperative need to make this a priority.”

He again called on Hamas to lay down its arms, but said Israel must make it a priority to provide assistance to those in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

In response to a question about the number of journalists killed in Gaza and the lack of access for international reporters to the Strip, Blinken said that “in principle” journalists should be able to reach anywhere there is conflict so that “the world can have knowledge.”

He said the issue is something “we raise in every case.”

Later, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed that the catastrophic hunger in Gaza is “man-made… and entirely preventable.”

Volker Türk placed the blame firmly on what he called “extensive Israeli restrictions on the entry and distribution of humanitarian aid and commercial goods, the displacement of most of the population, as well as the destruction of vital civilian infrastructure.”

He warned that the restrictions “may amount to the use of starvation as a means of war, which is a war crime.”

The Israeli diplomatic mission to the United Nations in Geneva said that Turk was seeking to shift blame for the situation in Gaza and “completely absolve the United Nations and Hamas of responsibility.”

She stressed that “Israel is doing everything in its power to flood Gaza with aid, including land, air and sea aid.”

Aid workers reject this, saying a large part of the problem in northern Gaza is due to a breakdown in security around aid convoys, after Israel targeted police escorting them.

Israel said the police were injured because its army was working to dismantle Hamas. But the United States cast doubt on this, saying such targeting makes aid distribution impossible and counterproductive.

On the other hand, the US State Department called on Israel to allow Philippe Lazzarini, director of the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees, to enter Gaza after preventing him on Monday.

Israel previously accused UNRWA of supporting Hamas, which the agency denied. But in January, it fired nine of the 12 employees accused in an Israeli document of participating in the October 7 attacks.

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The United States warned Israel that its plan to go ahead with the attack on Rafah would be a “mistake.”

US officials also announced on Tuesday that Blinken will make his last visit to the region since the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7 and the start of the war in Gaza.

This comes without achieving a breakthrough so far regarding a ceasefire in the hostage release agreement between Israel and Hamas.

He will speak with Saudi leaders in Jeddah and then head to Cairo to meet with the Egyptian leadership.

Much of the talks will focus on Arab support for the post-war plan to secure and manage Gaza.

The Americans want to rule the Palestinian Authority, the entity formed after the Oslo Peace Accords, which lost control of Gaza to Hamas after elections and fighting 17 years ago.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected the idea of ​​Palestinian Authority rule there, one of several crucial points of contention over the so-called “Day After Plan” for Gaza.

Blinken did not address the question of whether the post-war plan agreed upon in Gaza could only move forward with a different Israeli leader.

On Monday night, US President Joe Biden told Netanyahu that his plan to go ahead with the attack on Rafah would be a “mistake,” with more than a million civilians from Gaza taking refuge in the southern border city.

In their first conversation in more than a month, they also discussed a plan to send an Israeli delegation to Washington next week to discuss the Rafah plan and a new alternative approach to targeting Hamas there without a major ground invasion.

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